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Comedian Reviews

The verdict is in: Comedy is hard. That's the message of this documentary, which follows popular comedian Jerry Seinfeld as he works out his first new stand-up routine in more than a decade, and contrasts his travails with those of high-strung up-and-comer Orny Adams, who's freaked about approaching 30 and driven by a burning need for recognition. Adams can't imagine anything better than being Seinfeld, and this would be a more interesting film if you felt Seinfeld in turn genuinely envied Adams's youth and hunger for success. But whatever his personal insecurities — all comedians have them — Seinfeld is operating from a position of strength, cushioned by celebrity, critical acclaim and the enormous financial success of his '90s series. He has nothing to prove to anyone but himself, and despite pre-release buzz about his "dark side," the film's big revelation isn't that Seinfeld's a jerk (if he is, he keeps it under wraps), but that he gets the pre-show jitters. He probably puts his pants on one leg at a time as well, though director-producer team Christian Charles and Gary Streiner (former admen who met Seinfeld when they worked together on a series of American Express TV spots) failed to catch the proof on film. That said, their behind-the-scenes look at how professional comedians actually put together an act will be a revelation to most people who aren't in the business of being funny; contrary to what open-mike-night hogs appear to believe, there's as much craft to stand-up comedy as to dancing or singing. It's something of eye-opener to see Seinfeld playing small clubs like Caroline's and Gotham City Improv, and hearing him admit it's taken four months to assemble and polish five minutes of live material with which he's happy, and he's nervous about putting together enough for an hour-long act. That revealed, you understand why, when Chris Rock says he's just seen the 64-year-old Bill Cosby doing nearly two-and-a-half straight hours of live material, Seinfeld is as amazed as if he'd just heard that his one-legged grandpa won the New York marathon. This film got made because Seinfeld is famous, but it's still hard not to wish the filmmakers had devoted a couple of years to following Adams instead. The guy's such a throbbing bundle of arrogance, raw nerves and self-destructive insecurity that you can see the flame-out coming.